Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Iranian commercial airlines have sustained the dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad and the forces waging a scorched-earth campaign on his behalf. Mahan Air has been at the forefront of this effort, prompting the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on it in 2011. Until recently, Mahan and its business partners faced few material costs as a result of sanctions. Its aircraft continued to land not only in Damascus but also at airports across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Then, last year, Treasury changed tactics. Rather than just hitting the airlines with sanctions, the Department began to punish the ground services providers who facilitate the airline’s commercial operations across the globe.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow him on Twitter @eottolenghi, and follow FDD @FDD.